RIC/T.E.A.C.H. RI program puts college within reach of early childhood educators

The early childhood field in Rhode Island is at a crossroads. With the state setting higher expectations, an increasing number of early-care programs are requiring their teachers to have college degrees. With salaries typically between $7 and $12 an hour, and with very long workdays, many early childhood teachers have viewed college as out of reach.

Now, an innovative program – a joint effort of Rhode Island College’s Feinstein School of Education and T.E.A.C.H. Rhode Island, a project of Ready to Learn Providence – will let these educators earn a bachelor’s degree at night, in a supportive environment, and at a reduced cost.

Nineteen scholars began classes last week as part of a cohort developed to accommodate the hours and needs of early childhood teachers. Over the next several years, these students will study together as a dynamic learning community. Courses will be held both on and off campus (many of them at Ready to Learn Providence), which allows Rhode Island College to offer reduced tuition.

The students in this cohort have all received T.E.A.C.H. scholarships, which cover 90 percent of their costs for tuition and books. Other T.E.A.C.H. benefits include paid release time and increased compensation. Funds for these scholarships come largely through the Race to the Top/Early Learning Challenge grant that the state won last December.

All of the enrolled students have completed an associate’s degree, or have earned equivalent credits. They will take two courses a semester as part of the cohort, and will have the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education.

“The RIC faculty worked hard to make our Early Childhood Education program more seamlessly connected to the Community College of Rhode Island’s associate’s degree program,” explained Sasha Sidorkin, dean of the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development. “And the project would have been impossible without our partners. T.E.A.C.H. RI and Ready to Learn were able to build a statewide community of early childhood educators and provided tremendous support to potential students.”